The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of Christian Life

July 10, 2023 at 3:43 p.m.
The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of Christian Life
The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of Christian Life

Father Michael Kennedy

The following homily was prepared by Father Michael Kennedy for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A. Father Michael Kennedy is the parish administrator in St. Luke Parish, Toms River.

This homily is the first in a series of homilies with Eucharistic themes to be used in churches across the Diocese over the next year. Recently commissioned by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., the series includes the work of 13 priests and features sample homilies – in English and Spanish – along with other notes and information to assist any members of the clergy who opt to use it. 

 

The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of Christian Life

One of the burning questions facing the post-pandemic Church is how to get people back to Mass “in person.” We always seem to have big crowds on days like Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, when people get something to take home with them. I thought perhaps we could give away action figures of the saints. Each Mass you come to you get a different saint! Come to Mass the entire liturgical year and you can collect them all.

Obviously, this misses the point. We receive something much more important than action figures at Mass. But saints are important and many of us have our favorites. Mine, without any bias, is St. Michael the Archangel. Aside from our shared name, I like St. Michael for what he did: he combated Lucifer and expelled him and his angels from heaven, St. Michael defends the Church and in Revelation he does battle with the dragon in the end times. He is our protector and guide in these difficult days. But St. Michael is an angel. Because he’s not human and we know so little about him, he can seem distant.

One of my favorite human saints, and a favorite of millions of people around the world is St. Therese of Lisieux. Though she died anonymously in the Lisieux convent at the age of 24 in 1897, she became world famous within a few years of the publication of her autobiography, Story of a Soul, in 1898. There are so many wonderful aspects of her short life on which we could reflect, but I want to focus on one: her deep, passionate love of Christ and especially her love of Christ in the Eucharist. Because she so thoroughly understood and believed that the Eucharist is truly Christ, that He is fully present in It. She was able to approach the Eucharist as the source of her faith and also as its highest point.

Probably one of the most vivid illustrations of her love of the Eucharistic Lord is when she received her First Communion. I don’t know about most of us, but I barely remember my First Communion. I know it was at St. Denis in Manasquan in the late 70s and that’s about it. But Therese had a few advantages over most of us. Firstly, she was an extremely intelligent child and even as a little girl had a surprisingly deep faith. Secondly, she was surrounded by a family who consistently and consciously lived out the faith. They gave her rich examples of what true devotion to Christ looks like. As Father Frederick Miller points out,

“In particular, Louis Martin led Therese and each of his daughters not to a vague ideological notion of Christ, but rather, to a concrete immanent knowledge of Him as truly present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. He reinforced his children’s faith in the mystery of Christ by bringing them each day to visit and adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar” (Miller 132).  

This should underscore for us the importance of handing on the faith from generation to generation (especially from fathers) through real actions. Her catechesis was supplemented by genuine, substantial instruction by her family as well as by her parish priest and the Benedictine Sisters at her school (132). By the time she received her First Communion she was armed not only with the actual facts of Catholic belief, but also with a multitude of examples from real life. How many of us can say we had this experience? Fr Miller adds, “Therese’s knowledge of God led her, at an unusually tender age, to open herself to Him in prayer” (134). In her autobiography, Therese relates the experience of her First Communion. She tells us:

“My First Communion will always be a perfect memory… How lovely it was, that first kiss of Jesus in my heart – it was truly a kiss of love. I knew that I was loved and said, ‘I love You, and I give myself to You forever.’ Jesus asked for nothing, He claimed no sacrifice. Long before that, he and little Therese had seen and understood one another well, but on that day it was more than a meeting – it was a complete fusion … She felt so weak and frail that she wanted to unite herself forever to His Divine Strength. And her joy became so vast, so deep, that now it overflowed. Soon she was weeping to the astonishment of her companions … It was beyond them that all the joy of Heaven had entered one small, exiled heart, and that it was too frail and weak to bear it without tears” (Story 41-43). 

Can the Eucharist instigate this kind of transformation if it is merely a symbol or metaphor? Therese may have been an extraordinary child, but I don’t know anyone, child or adult, who either felt this way about the Eucharist or experienced receiving Christ in quite this way. And yet, her outlook and experience should be the norm. I don’t share this to make anyone feel bad or question their faith. I share it because in this time, our historical moment, it is imperative that we reassess our relationship with the Eucharist.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the Second Vatican Council Document Lumen Gentium which tells us that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). One aspect of this line from Lumen Gentium that the Catechism mistakenly leaves out by truncating the sentence to just a phrase is the Mass. The Eucharist doesn’t exist separately from the Mass. The full sentence from Lumen Gentium, taken from the Vatican website says, “Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the font and the apex of the whole Christian life they [the faithful] offer the Divine Victim to God and themselves with It” (LG 11, emphasis mine).

This more complete understanding of what the Vatican fathers said helps us to look at the whole picture. If we are to truly reassess our relationship with the Eucharist, we must also take a deeper look at our participation in and our approach to the liturgy. We cannot attempt to climb to the summit if we do not have the right equipment and don’t know the correct path. We cannot recognize the source, Christ hidden under the appearances of bread and wine, unless we seek him with the eyes of ever renewed faith and love.

In his book Meditations Before Mass the influential theologian Father Romano Guardini tells us that this is actually a simple thing to do, “To grasp the mystery all that is necessary on the part of the believer is intrinsic readiness and calm reflection; then his heart will respond with reverence” (Meditations 42). How do we attain “intrinsic readiness and calm reflection?” Father Guardini offers three forms of preparation for the Mass: stillness, silence and composure. We might note that all three of these actions are just about nonexistent in today’s culture.

Stillness, Fr. Guardini says, is something that must be desired and practiced, “If we value it, it brings us joy; if not, discomfort” (3). I think we’ve all experienced this when the priest tries to punctuate the Mass with moments of stillness and quiet. Sometimes we’re not sure how to act. Our own attitude determines the outcome of that stillness.

Silence is closely related to stillness. Guardini says, “The importance of silence for sacred celebration cannot be over stressed: silence which prepares for it as well as silence which establishes itself again and again during the ceremony” (11).  It is this silence that, “opens the inner fount from which the [spoken] word rises.” The alternation of silence and speech during the liturgy, centered on the Eucharist, is where the “truth of God and redeemed man is meant to blaze” (10).

Composure is the companion of stillness and silence. Whereas “Silence overcomes noise and talk; composure is the victory over distractions and unrest” (15). Sometimes the noise is in our head. We need silence and stillness along with grace to calm the interior monologue. These three actions are interlocking, they work together. 

It’s easy to see how these three actions taken in our approach to the “source and summit of our faith” would open our hearts and mind to an experience of Jesus in the Eucharist that is like St. Therese’s. And yet they are so rare even in our churches. They require a very real humility, to shut our mouth, to stop thinking about us and to turn our full attention to HIM, to the summit we hope to reach. It takes the effort and God’s grace to make ourselves small, like St. Therese, so that our Lord can carry us into union with Himself.

Our Heaven will be the fulfillment of our relationship with God, the completion of our union with Him. St. Therese saw this in the Eucharist when she said, “The Eucharist is my heaven on earth.” The Catechism states, “…by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all” (CCC 1326). We have access to our own ongoing fulfillment when we receive the Eucharist. We are swept right up to the highest point of our faith, the “apex” as Lumen Gentium calls it. We are brought into union with the very source of our lives as Christians, Christ Jesus present in the Eucharist, if only we can quiet our hearts and minds long enough to see it.

Conclusion/Impact/Recommendations:  

In his book, Meditations Before Mass, the influential theologian Father Romano Guardini tells us that this is actually a simple thing to do, “To grasp the mystery all that is necessary on the part of the believer is intrinsic readiness and calm reflection; then his heart will respond with reverence” (Meditations 42). How do we attain “intrinsic readiness and calm reflection?” Father Guardini offers three forms of preparation for the Mass: stillness, silence and composure. We might note that all three of these actions are just about nonexistent in today’s culture.

Stillness, Father Guardini says, is something that must be desired and practiced, “If we value it, it brings us joy; if not, discomfort” (3). I think we’ve all experienced this when the priest tries to punctuate the Mass with moments of stillness and quiet. Sometimes we’re not sure how to act. Our own attitude determines the outcome of that stillness.

Silence is closely related to stillness. Guardini says, “The importance of silence for sacred celebration cannot be over stressed: silence which prepares for it as well as silence which establishes itself again and again during the ceremony” (11).  It is this silence that, “opens the inner fount from which the [spoken] word rises.” The alternation of silence and speech during the liturgy, centered on the Eucharist, is where the “truth of God and redeemed man is meant to blaze” (10).


Related Stories

The following homily was prepared by Father Michael Kennedy for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A. Father Michael Kennedy is the parish administrator in St. Luke Parish, Toms River.

This homily is the first in a series of homilies with Eucharistic themes to be used in churches across the Diocese over the next year. Recently commissioned by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., the series includes the work of 13 priests and features sample homilies – in English and Spanish – along with other notes and information to assist any members of the clergy who opt to use it. 

 

The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of Christian Life

One of the burning questions facing the post-pandemic Church is how to get people back to Mass “in person.” We always seem to have big crowds on days like Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, when people get something to take home with them. I thought perhaps we could give away action figures of the saints. Each Mass you come to you get a different saint! Come to Mass the entire liturgical year and you can collect them all.

Obviously, this misses the point. We receive something much more important than action figures at Mass. But saints are important and many of us have our favorites. Mine, without any bias, is St. Michael the Archangel. Aside from our shared name, I like St. Michael for what he did: he combated Lucifer and expelled him and his angels from heaven, St. Michael defends the Church and in Revelation he does battle with the dragon in the end times. He is our protector and guide in these difficult days. But St. Michael is an angel. Because he’s not human and we know so little about him, he can seem distant.

One of my favorite human saints, and a favorite of millions of people around the world is St. Therese of Lisieux. Though she died anonymously in the Lisieux convent at the age of 24 in 1897, she became world famous within a few years of the publication of her autobiography, Story of a Soul, in 1898. There are so many wonderful aspects of her short life on which we could reflect, but I want to focus on one: her deep, passionate love of Christ and especially her love of Christ in the Eucharist. Because she so thoroughly understood and believed that the Eucharist is truly Christ, that He is fully present in It. She was able to approach the Eucharist as the source of her faith and also as its highest point.

Probably one of the most vivid illustrations of her love of the Eucharistic Lord is when she received her First Communion. I don’t know about most of us, but I barely remember my First Communion. I know it was at St. Denis in Manasquan in the late 70s and that’s about it. But Therese had a few advantages over most of us. Firstly, she was an extremely intelligent child and even as a little girl had a surprisingly deep faith. Secondly, she was surrounded by a family who consistently and consciously lived out the faith. They gave her rich examples of what true devotion to Christ looks like. As Father Frederick Miller points out,

“In particular, Louis Martin led Therese and each of his daughters not to a vague ideological notion of Christ, but rather, to a concrete immanent knowledge of Him as truly present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. He reinforced his children’s faith in the mystery of Christ by bringing them each day to visit and adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar” (Miller 132).  

This should underscore for us the importance of handing on the faith from generation to generation (especially from fathers) through real actions. Her catechesis was supplemented by genuine, substantial instruction by her family as well as by her parish priest and the Benedictine Sisters at her school (132). By the time she received her First Communion she was armed not only with the actual facts of Catholic belief, but also with a multitude of examples from real life. How many of us can say we had this experience? Fr Miller adds, “Therese’s knowledge of God led her, at an unusually tender age, to open herself to Him in prayer” (134). In her autobiography, Therese relates the experience of her First Communion. She tells us:

“My First Communion will always be a perfect memory… How lovely it was, that first kiss of Jesus in my heart – it was truly a kiss of love. I knew that I was loved and said, ‘I love You, and I give myself to You forever.’ Jesus asked for nothing, He claimed no sacrifice. Long before that, he and little Therese had seen and understood one another well, but on that day it was more than a meeting – it was a complete fusion … She felt so weak and frail that she wanted to unite herself forever to His Divine Strength. And her joy became so vast, so deep, that now it overflowed. Soon she was weeping to the astonishment of her companions … It was beyond them that all the joy of Heaven had entered one small, exiled heart, and that it was too frail and weak to bear it without tears” (Story 41-43). 

Can the Eucharist instigate this kind of transformation if it is merely a symbol or metaphor? Therese may have been an extraordinary child, but I don’t know anyone, child or adult, who either felt this way about the Eucharist or experienced receiving Christ in quite this way. And yet, her outlook and experience should be the norm. I don’t share this to make anyone feel bad or question their faith. I share it because in this time, our historical moment, it is imperative that we reassess our relationship with the Eucharist.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the Second Vatican Council Document Lumen Gentium which tells us that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). One aspect of this line from Lumen Gentium that the Catechism mistakenly leaves out by truncating the sentence to just a phrase is the Mass. The Eucharist doesn’t exist separately from the Mass. The full sentence from Lumen Gentium, taken from the Vatican website says, “Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the font and the apex of the whole Christian life they [the faithful] offer the Divine Victim to God and themselves with It” (LG 11, emphasis mine).

This more complete understanding of what the Vatican fathers said helps us to look at the whole picture. If we are to truly reassess our relationship with the Eucharist, we must also take a deeper look at our participation in and our approach to the liturgy. We cannot attempt to climb to the summit if we do not have the right equipment and don’t know the correct path. We cannot recognize the source, Christ hidden under the appearances of bread and wine, unless we seek him with the eyes of ever renewed faith and love.

In his book Meditations Before Mass the influential theologian Father Romano Guardini tells us that this is actually a simple thing to do, “To grasp the mystery all that is necessary on the part of the believer is intrinsic readiness and calm reflection; then his heart will respond with reverence” (Meditations 42). How do we attain “intrinsic readiness and calm reflection?” Father Guardini offers three forms of preparation for the Mass: stillness, silence and composure. We might note that all three of these actions are just about nonexistent in today’s culture.

Stillness, Fr. Guardini says, is something that must be desired and practiced, “If we value it, it brings us joy; if not, discomfort” (3). I think we’ve all experienced this when the priest tries to punctuate the Mass with moments of stillness and quiet. Sometimes we’re not sure how to act. Our own attitude determines the outcome of that stillness.

Silence is closely related to stillness. Guardini says, “The importance of silence for sacred celebration cannot be over stressed: silence which prepares for it as well as silence which establishes itself again and again during the ceremony” (11).  It is this silence that, “opens the inner fount from which the [spoken] word rises.” The alternation of silence and speech during the liturgy, centered on the Eucharist, is where the “truth of God and redeemed man is meant to blaze” (10).

Composure is the companion of stillness and silence. Whereas “Silence overcomes noise and talk; composure is the victory over distractions and unrest” (15). Sometimes the noise is in our head. We need silence and stillness along with grace to calm the interior monologue. These three actions are interlocking, they work together. 

It’s easy to see how these three actions taken in our approach to the “source and summit of our faith” would open our hearts and mind to an experience of Jesus in the Eucharist that is like St. Therese’s. And yet they are so rare even in our churches. They require a very real humility, to shut our mouth, to stop thinking about us and to turn our full attention to HIM, to the summit we hope to reach. It takes the effort and God’s grace to make ourselves small, like St. Therese, so that our Lord can carry us into union with Himself.

Our Heaven will be the fulfillment of our relationship with God, the completion of our union with Him. St. Therese saw this in the Eucharist when she said, “The Eucharist is my heaven on earth.” The Catechism states, “…by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all” (CCC 1326). We have access to our own ongoing fulfillment when we receive the Eucharist. We are swept right up to the highest point of our faith, the “apex” as Lumen Gentium calls it. We are brought into union with the very source of our lives as Christians, Christ Jesus present in the Eucharist, if only we can quiet our hearts and minds long enough to see it.

Conclusion/Impact/Recommendations:  

In his book, Meditations Before Mass, the influential theologian Father Romano Guardini tells us that this is actually a simple thing to do, “To grasp the mystery all that is necessary on the part of the believer is intrinsic readiness and calm reflection; then his heart will respond with reverence” (Meditations 42). How do we attain “intrinsic readiness and calm reflection?” Father Guardini offers three forms of preparation for the Mass: stillness, silence and composure. We might note that all three of these actions are just about nonexistent in today’s culture.

Stillness, Father Guardini says, is something that must be desired and practiced, “If we value it, it brings us joy; if not, discomfort” (3). I think we’ve all experienced this when the priest tries to punctuate the Mass with moments of stillness and quiet. Sometimes we’re not sure how to act. Our own attitude determines the outcome of that stillness.

Silence is closely related to stillness. Guardini says, “The importance of silence for sacred celebration cannot be over stressed: silence which prepares for it as well as silence which establishes itself again and again during the ceremony” (11).  It is this silence that, “opens the inner fount from which the [spoken] word rises.” The alternation of silence and speech during the liturgy, centered on the Eucharist, is where the “truth of God and redeemed man is meant to blaze” (10).

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